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Microsoft's Ballmer Sees into the Future    [Date Added : 06/24/2005 ]
According to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, the computer software industry will witness more growth over the next five years than it has over the past decade. "I've lost track of the number of times someone has said that personal computing had reached its limits," observes Ballmer. "But the potential is still largely untapped for software and computing."

Ballmer - who recently spoke at a Stanford University Graduate School of Business seminar - predicts that most of this growth will come from innovations in information management technology. He says: "One of Microsoft's goals is helping customers find, manage and organize the ocean of digital information that's accessible to just about everyone in the world. All of the information is there, but it's often very difficult for people to find and manage. We want to help people to organize and visualize their information in new and rich ways."

Needless to say, Microsoft's goals have evolved considerably since 1980, the year Ballmer left the Stanford Graduate School of Business to join Bill Gates at Microsoft. At the time, the fledgling software firm's mission statement was to put a personal computer on the desk of every home in America. Ballmer says today the world's largest manufacturer of software for personal and business computing must focus unrelentingly on "sustained, tenacious innovation."

"Innovation is the lifeblood of our business," he says. And as Microsoft's CEO for the past five years, Ballmer has considered it his primary responsibility to drive the innovation and growth agenda for the company.

"As a leader, your job is to set the tone for big, bold innovation," he states. At Microsoft, that means fostering an environment that continually focuses on the potential for future growth - not on the long-term challenges that slow it down.

"People tend to be over-optimistic about the short-term potential for technology and under-optimistic about the long term," Ballmer says, quoting his long-time colleague (and Microsoft founder) Bill Gates. "In hindsight, past innovations always seem too easy, and future innovations always seem impossibly difficult." But according to Ballmer, future innovations in information management, unified communications and digital technology will inspire people to "re-imagine the role that computing will play in our daily lives."

For example, Ballmer reports that voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) technology isn't just a way for people to make long-distance phone calls more economically. "It's very difficult to figure out the best way to reach someone these days," he says. "VoIP will enable people to manage various modes of communication more effectively."

Ballmer also cites digital entertainment as an area with extraordinary potential for future growth. Speaking just hours before Microsoft launched its new Xbox 360 video game console, he notes that one of Microsoft's primary goals is to "bring the power of the PC to the movies you watch, the music you listen to, and the photos that you look at it."

According to Ballmer, Microsoft must maintain a corporate culture that nurtures and rewards innovation in order to tap the full potential of technologies like these. "You must have the right people and talent around you to propel innovation forward," he says. "Innovation is fundamentally about people: recruiting, hiring and retaining the best people." At Microsoft, that means building a team that offers not only technical expertise but also a genuine passion for the work they do.

In fact, Ballmer believes that his employees' collective enthusiasm makes his own leadership style more effective. "People in our company love to be passionate," Ballmer reports. "In general, I've found that passion and energy resonate well with Microsoft employees."

Nonetheless, he admits that he has had to refine his leadership style in order to get the most out of his team. "I wouldn't say my personality has gotten in the way, but I have to make sure that I make a conscious effort not to drown other people's thoughts and viewpoints," he states.

In addition to passion, an almost stubborn persistence and a tolerance for risk-taking are critical to Microsoft's culture of innovation. "You have to have the willingness to bet early and the tenacity to stick with it," Ballmer says, describing the various factors that distinguish established innovators like Microsoft from the "one-hit wonders" of the technology industry. "Successful innovation is a lot like hitting in baseball: No one hits it out of the park every time. Many different factors - both internal and external - affect your success at the game. You can strike out by getting to the game too early and by getting to it too late, but the only way to hit a home run is to keep swinging at balls."

("Ballmer Foresees Growth in Information Management Technology," by Lisa Vollmer, standfordknowledgebase, June 2005. Copyright 2005. Stanford University - Graduate School of Business).
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